How often do you decide to go for a run, lace up your shoes, and head out of the door? It the answer is 'yes' you could be risking a long term injury. Warming up effectively helps avoid muscle strains and prepares your body for exercise by gradually raising the heart rate. Follow these top ten tips from Ultra Trail Spain running holidays to ensure you warm up thoroughly...
1. Leave static stretching for after training
We're kicking this one off with a don't... don't static stretch. Research increasingly proves, static stretching – that's where you go into a stretch position and hold - is the fast track to a muscle strain. There's a high risk of pulling a cold muscle into an unnatural position and triggering injury.
2. Gradually increase the range of motion
We warm up to gradually raise the heart rate, get the blood pumping slightly faster around the body, preparing the joints and their associated structures for higher levels of movement. So, if you intend to go for a run, start with a couple of minutes brisk walk before moving into a slow jog and then a run.
3. Add some dynamic stretching
We know static stretching isn't the way to warm up safely, but moving into gentle stretch positions is; since we're gradually increase that all important range of motion of our joints. For example, walking lunges starting from a narrow stance and gradually increasing the length of your stride will help to warm up the hip joint, hamstrings, quads and calves.
4. Do some drills
If you've ever wondered what those track athletes are doing when they do what looks like funny walks before a race – they're doing drills. Another form of dynamic stretching, drills target very specific joints and muscles, as well as getting the blood pumping prior to hard training. Simple examples include marching, marching on the forefoot, skipping, hopping and a whole range of other movements. There are loads to try and as you move through your warm up you can add a 30 second or so jog after each different drill to progress your warm up.
5. Your warm up counts
Don't discount the effort you're putting in to your warm up. Yes, you may be moving slowly and with less power than your 'actual' exercise but it still counts in your overall training time. And by gradually increasing your range of motion in your joints, and slowly raising your heart rate, you'll be looking after your body long-term to avoid injury.
6. Train somewhere hot!
Okay, so this isn't easy unless you're training with us at Ultra Trail Spain under the Andalucian sunshine, but being warm helps keep your core body temperature elevated and all your muscles supplied with plenty of energy fuelling blood flow. This is why athletes competing in field events, like the long jump, high jump, javelin events... keep unzipping and then zipping up their tracksuits between every jump or throw.
7. Add the arms
Even runners use their arms in movement, so remember to include your arms in your warm ups. Start steady, simple shoulder shrugs, before moving into gentle shadow boxing, and if you really want to get your heart pumping, gently punch above your head. The heart has to pump hard against gravity in this latter move and so the heart rate rises quickly.
8. Go old school
You can't beat traditional exercises! After you've done a few minutes or so gentle movement, add some old favourites like jumping jacks, spotty dogs and mountain climbers. Remember, you're using these to warm up so gradually increase your range of motion in each, avoiding throwing yourself straight into them.
9. Use a foam roller
Foam rollers come in varying degrees of firmness and are used to roll out knotty muscles and tight joints. They are also a great warm-up addition, particularly for loosening up tight hip joints and upper legs. Put the roller on the floor and use your bodyweight to roll over the tight area, increasing the pressure applied and pace as you progress.
10. Make time for your own warm up
Gym instructors will always include a generic warm up in their classes, we don't however all take the same amount of time to warm up so if you feel you need a little longer, get to your class early and start some gentle movement. Similarly, if you're scheduling your own training, leave enough time to warm up.
Ultra Trail Spain holidays hosts dedicated performance running training camps and holidays, in the beautiful mountain surroundings of Moclín, Spain.